Oh gosh, these past few days have been hellishly stressful. Whoever said that farm life is sleepy and boring clearly has never spent time in the countryside. The other day I was called over to help with delivering baby goats– and I know absolutely nothing about goats! Regardless, here’s the update for the day under the cut! I’m psyched to bring it to you. Stuff picks up from here on out– Sloth is such a telling section!– so stay tuned for more emotional trauma in these upcoming weeks.
With Love, Oxer
Hollis was never this rude with the horn.
Piper maybe was, but she just blared it once, gave the car in front of her the middle finger, probably called it “Fucko” or something if she was mad enough. Then she was done and probably on to figuring out a sufficiently obnoxious radio station. Octavian was better. He never asserted himself on the roads, period– he was all smiles and kindness and we were late so many times because he wouldn’t quit letting people in. He always got yelled at for it.
Liang just didn’t drive, like me. He always said his brain worked too fast for it, that he couldn’t stand doing something so simple for so long. Hollis even brought over the neighbor’s stick shift for him to practice in, he was sick of Liang not being able to drive, and that… did not end well.
Hollis is reckless as all hell on the roads, but at least he didn’t sit there and honk at people like this. Phoenix’s constant jamming on the Jaguar’s horn is like an alarm clock that I can’t shut off. It went from jerking me out of my sleep to just being really fucking annoying and then to making me want to cry because it won’t quit.
And I left Octavian’s headphones in the trunk in the pocket of my PJ pants. Brilliant.
Thus, here I am, slumped over in my seat and having trouble breathing right. At some point, Elias leans back and puts his hand on my leg, trying to get me to come back to earth, but he’s insane if he thinks I can stand any of that stupid stupid annoying as shit noise–
Something lands in my lap.
That alone makes me jump. Some sort of music player has just presented itself to me and as soon as I process that I am cramming the cheap hunks of plastic that are headphones into my ears.
Classical music, I realize. I slump back in my seat, mollified.
It’s the same dude Octavian and Liang always listen to. I recognize the trilling in the flute section.
Excuse my tangent here (classical music does strange crap to my brain), but… it was always weird to me to see those two boys getting along. I know, I know, completely out of the blue, but their close friendship inside of my family was always so unexpected that I kinda considered it the eighth wonder of the world. The loopy art kid and the super smart / paranoid one come together in perfect harmony, staying up late and watching bad movies and talking about girls (probably). I remember so many times they camped out in the living room together and when we found them in the mornings the TV was always playing the title screen to some old horror flick on repeat.
It was crazy to me how two people who were so outwardly different could have such a deep bond. Or even a bond in the first place. If it was a bond forged of necessity or what, I don’t know, but… underneath it all they must have found out they had more in common than met the eye.
And to think they could hardly speak to one another when they first met.
I shake my head, press myself up against the window and swallow. Across from me, Hana is doing the exact same thing– at least the pressing herself up against the window part. I’m really getting the vibes that she doesn’t want to talk to me (probably because I’m a neurotic glowing freak and also weird to talk to because I stutter). Though she no longer has her headphones I saw earlier, so maybe she does?
Wait. This music player is hers?
Something squeezes my throat and I curl up even further. I have to say thank you somehow, of course, that’s the decent human-being thing to do, but saying thank you means opening my mouth and speaking and I really don’t think I’m prepared to do that right now.
But I can’t just let things… go, right? That’s mean and weird and would just confirm all the bad things Hana already knows about me. Of course I know that.
So I grab my poetry notebook from by my feet and scribble my message down. She wouldn’t like my stutter.
Hana- thank you. I’m sorry I act so weird.
– Valkyrie ❤
It didn’t feel right to end that without some sort of an apology. Or a heart. I need to appear nonthreatening.
I tear at it until it’s a raggedy shape– gotta conserve paper– and slide it across the seat. Then, I curl up in a little ball again and drown out whatever Phoenix is saying to me with the melodies of Tchaikovsky.
We walk into the lobby and I feel it.
This place, and I can’t really describe it any other way, is… tired. You know when you come home after a super long day and you just want to sit on the sofa and not do anything forever and everything is sleepy and grey? That’s the auric energy that spills out of just the lobby, and I can’t pretend it doesn’t influence me somehow.
I suddenly feel like that one kid from that YouTube video. That toddler in the pink bikini who is sobbing how she wants to take a nap right here on the beach and then promptly tells the guy filming “good night.”
Except I just woke up a half an hour ago after a relatively peaceful (read: sans nightmares) sleep, so I have nothing to cry about. That’s how I know something is up with this apartment building.
Or maybe it could be the fact that it’s fucking falling apart in a shiny new business district. Take your pick.
I lag a bit behind Phoenix as we go across the lobby, as opposed to my usual post next to him. Something unseen tugs at my shins, like I’m wading through water.
I want my cats, I realize then. I want my three thousand fuzzy fleece throws with video game characters on them. I want my bed, but I want that bed to be in an underground bunker so I can just hide out and sleep through this whole mess and not be “the glowing girl” anymore as the apocalypse rages above me. I want out.
And sleep seems nice. When was the last time I got actual rest?
I really can’t help myself, then, when I lean up against Phoenix as he stops next to Elias. And I yawn and hold onto his arm. All those alarm bells in my head that I’m doing something socially unacceptable are muted, like I’m feeling them from the outside world while I hang out in that underground bunker.
Yeah, sleep. Sleep like that lady with the bun Hana is confronting behind the desk (Bun Lady is honestly the most relatable thing I have ever seen). It faintly registers beside me that Phoenix is confused as all fuck at bun lady, but I don’t mind that. It doesn’t really matter. Glowing Girl is out of commission, they won’t need me anyway.
I shut my eyes and let out a sigh.
The lobby is as bad as I would have expected.
When the woman on the side of the road told be about this very apartment building, I had assumed Sloth was at work. With a crooked smile and yellowed teeth she recounted how her sister had gotten a place there and how she was worried because she had not heard from her in weeks. I thanked her (very elaborately, of course) and gave her the rest of my sandwich, which was what I had to bargain with.
It was not a lead at all, but as good a thing to go on as any, so I said we were headed to Lucerne. I had to keep up the illusion that I knew what I was doing at all costs; the other three depended upon me.
Now, though, when I enter the lobby, I find any sort of illusion difficult to maintain.
There are crumbles of dirt on every available surface and the desk in disarray, with paperwork scattered in every direction. A sofa across the room seems to be growing mold next to a tipped over hydrangea. Even the fluorescents above us seem muted, as if the lightbulbs are covered in a centimeter-thick layer of dust.
“It smells like death,” I comment lowly, and it is true. If the word stagnation had a stench, it would be the one permeating the air around me: like wet wood, swamp water, and dying things.
I do not try to stop Izumi as she confronts the woman behind the counter; I am not in the mood for an argument. Rather, I take notice as Valkyrie drunkenly meanders up to Phoenix and grabs ahold of his arm. She gives an enormous yawn.
Is she… falling asleep?
“You are well deserving of an entourage,” I mutter lowly to Phoenix, almost an afterthought, because I am already gently shaking Valkyrie’s shoulder. She comes back alive slowly, her blue eyes squinting like she is not used to the light.
“Tired, Miss Amethyst?” I smile at her and she blushes, yawns again, but she does not let go of Phoenix. It is almost like she is using him to stay standing. I pat her arm. “Stay awake, please. No use falling asleep on the job, hm?”
This is bad; I suppress a cringe as I pull away. I recall the sin of Pride, how it pitted Izumi and I directly against one another and ended in my injury. It is no secret to me that these sins have influence over mortals, and if Valkyrie is already feeling indisposed in the lobby, I shudder to think what could happen to her the closer we get to the source.
“Keep an eye on Miss Amethyst, Phoenix Thourne, please,” I mutter as Valkyrie jerks herself awake again. “I do not think Sloth will be kind to her. I loathe to ask this of you, after what… happened in Innismuth, but you are so kind to her–“
A movement catches my eye, and I look up to see Izumi backing away from the front desk as if she has accidentally set it on fire. I let out a sigh, straighten up, toss my hair. “Never mind my rambling, there are more pressing matters at hand. But once we leave this building, I must have a… word, I suppose, with you in private. It is deeply important.”
I leave it at that, crack a smile, and then turn to listen to what Izumi has discovered with a hand on my hip.
I’m awake now. Kind of?
I don’t know how I can throw that sleepy feeling so quickly but as soon as I heard Elias starting up his crooning to Phoenix again it was like I chugged three straight shots of espresso. There I stand shaking, still feeling like I haven’t slept in days but as wired as I’ll ever be.
What the shit was that? It was like I had almost passed out then and there, like I had really become that kid from the video in the pink swimsuit. Is this a power thing again? Am I going to go crazy like I did with that finch?
I take nap here, my brain suddenly supplies, and I tell it to shut up as I try to tune into what Hana is saying.
“She looks like she passed out, but she doesn’t want help.” Hana mutters, referring to Bun Lady.
“Passed out?” Phoenix is aghast. For the record same, buddy, though I suppose I could pass out right about now and be cool with it. I shuffle my feet and yawn. Maybe somebody can take me back to the car…
I jerk awake again, fluff up my hair with my free hand. What the hell what the hell what the hell–
“Yes, passed out.” Hana growls. I wince. “She’s not hurt, just barely conscious and really not in the mood to be bothered. So I say we don’t push this and just keep moving. Yes?”
Everyone has huddled up closer now, and with that I step back and let go of Phoenix, allowing him to converse with the sane people while I bounce on my toes and shake and try and stay awake on the outside. Elias apparently is having none of this, because he touches my shoulder before I can dart away and brings me up beside him.
“You are a part of this team as well,” he mutters to me, and then he gives me a smile that is too knowing, too sympathetic. I swallow, feeling my throat go tight.
“Agreed, Izumi,” Elias then nods as I slip away from him to the outside of the circle again. “If the whole building is acting like this woman, we shall have no problem going door to door. I believe that…” And here he pauses, twisting at the end of his braid, like what he is about to say he still can’t believe. “I believe that here is where we will find the sin of Sloth, judging by the way the administration and Miss Amethyst are acting.”
My cheeks ignite, and I cover both my eyes like some stupid baby playing peek-a-boo. No concept of object permanence. If I can’t see them, they can’t see me, right?
That never works.
“We will take care of one another up there,” Elias says softly, and then his presence is next to mine, his aura bumping up against my own, unusually soft. I peer through my hands to see him trying to make eye contact with me.
I close my fingers up.
I hear Elias let out a sigh, feel him turn to address the others again. “I say we stay together this time. It may be slower work, but I do not like the idea of… of Sloth pitting us against one another, as Pride did for Izumi and me.”
Elias takes both of my hands then, trying to get me to participate in the conversation, and it’s a totally platonic thing but I think I’m as red as his hair. Everything is all blurry, too, almost like I’m not wearing my glasses, and almost like… almost like I’m gonna fall over or something. I take nap here, good night.
“We take Miss Amethyst up to make our work quicker,” Elias declares, though he drops my hands and rests one of his own on my shoulder. “I suppose her reactions will show us our proximity.”
I can’t bring myself to react to that. I don’t really care. My limbs all feel like lead and as I grab onto Elias’s arm to steady myself I feel him cringe and say “Though, I believe one of us will have to… carry her, at some point.”
All I know is that we’ve been wandering around for some time now, and people’s voices have been bouncing off of my ears because I don’t really have the capacity to hear them. All the walls and room numbers blend together and in one mishmash of golden hues and at some point somebody is carrying me. Which some part of me knows that I should be freaking out about but at this moment in time it’s just… nice. Like a bed, y’know? I just want to rest, and the farther we go along the sleepier I get.
But when whoever is carrying me enters that one apartment, everything changes.
And I panic.
You know those moments where you feel possessed? Like when you’re so scared that any and all sense of anything just is not there and you’re running before you can think? I seem to do that a lot, but now there’s a reason.
Something in me stirred as soon as I saw the first bottle on the floor. My heart stopped dead when I saw the second. When I looked up and saw all of them, empty wine chalice after beer can after shot glass, my soul practically left my body. I don’t recall much of it; I just recall kicking whoever it was that was carrying me, falling to the ground, saying a bunch of swear words, letting out something like a sob, and then turning and running, running like I almost never had before, out the door down the hallway around the corner, tripping, falling down a step, feeling pain shoot up through my ankle–
And I bolt straight into the elevator.
I’m proud to say I don’t run into the wall, rather my combat boots get purchase on the carpet a few inches before it. I catch my hands on the guard rail and fling myself backwards, whirling around and jamming as many buttons as possible to give some illusion of action. I don’t know where I’m going and I can hardly see straight because my eyes are stinging and there’s hardly any weight on my bum ankle but I just need to get out of there, need to be anywhere but here–
The doors slide closed, I drop to the ground and begin crying for real.
That room– I couldn’t be there. Too much death, too much rot and stagnation and leftover alcohol and just too much. I just couldn’t be there because something dark was nagging at my temples and it made me want to be there underneath it all, want to just sit and drink and forget the outside world and drown everything out and–
I’m acting like a freak, curled up in a little ball pressed up against the corner; more of the same asylum patient-esque behavior. Am I crying because I think I just ruined my ankle or because of Sloth was totally getting to me and I couldn’t even fight it or because… because of that place?
Hell if I know. I cry at everything, all the time. Doesn’t mean I can figure out why.